How Guatemala became one of
the most violent countries in the world.


An average of 18 murders are committed per day in Guatemala.

5,960 people were killed in 2010, 695 of them women.
Of the 5,618 murder victims in 2011, 631 were women.

sources (UNDP, Amnesty International)

98 % of the crimes committed are never investigated, or the charges are dropped. According to police sources, 50 to 60% of the crimes are committed by gangs, but other studies put the figure at 10%. The maras’ violent deeds are the tree hiding the forest of far more widespread violence.

Murders, rapes, extortions, kidnapping, prostitution, and trafficking in drug, humans, and guns: death has become a common occurrence in such a daily life.

When you shop, you see cashiers behind weapon-proof barriers; you board buses guarded by armed sentries. People don’t go out after dark. They worry about their children being hit by stray bullets.

Aggravated by poverty, joblessness, and the failure of prevention and repression policies, violence has wormed its way into the family.

Homicide rates

(number of murder victims per 100,000 inhabitants)
According to the World Health Organization, if there are more than ten murders per 100,000 inhabitants per year, violence is “epidemic.”

Guatemala City Honduras Brazil Nigeria USA Germany Norway
108 88 22 12,2 5 1,2 0,6
Guatemala Colombia Mexico World average France Spain
49 33 18 7 1,4 1,19

source: United Nations statistics

The spread of illicit weapons

Legal weapons in circulation
in the country :
1,8 millions

Weapons sources :
Germany, Argentina, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Czech Republic, Slovakia, USA, Israel, Mexico and Turkey.

source : Amnesty International - Contrôlez les arms

Social injustice

84% of the arable land is owned by only 2% of the population, the elite Guatemalan families.
44% of the country’s wealth goes to 10% of the population.
In 2011, almost 60% of the active population was working in the “informal sector.”
Poverty rate: 51%,
The rate of extreme poverty (income 1$) per day is 16%

source : Collectif Guatemala

International crime and drug trafficking

Guatemala is located on the route cocaine follows when drug traffickers ship it from the Andes to markets in the US. The grip of the illegal drug trade is increasingly powerful. Guatemala is considered a “narco-state.” Traffickers are protected by accomplices at the very heart of government.

In 2011, a state of emergency was declared in the department of Petén, next door to Mexico, after 27 farm workers were decapitated. They had been murdered by Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel, one of the most violent. These gangsters control the border region, terrorizing its inhabitants.

Profits in the illicit drug trade for the United States market, although unknown, of course, were estimated at $6 billion in 2008. Since then, they have only increased.

As for the organized criminals, multinational corporations, and the Guatemalan oligarchy, they maintain a system that has always favored owners of huge estates, corrupt politicians, and drug cartels.

Guatemalan officials grant mining licenses to international firms with very few questions asked. Likewise, drug traffickers can easily acquire real estate, traded “legally” and aboveboard.
These “new settlers” are white-collar mobsters.


“Were they angry because we marched in the streets to say we wanted land to cultivate? Because we told them they were exploiting us on the fincas (large farming estates)? Because we demanded that they stop stealing our communal lands? Because we began to write our own history? Because we were no longer willing to let them kill us with impunity? Because we fled for our lives? Because we told them we could no longer bear hunger, disease, and abandonment? Or perhaps because they believed that they had a monopoly on the wealth of the land?”

Jesus Hernandez Tohom, K’iche’ Maya Indian, Philosopher, theologian, and sociologist.

(In “La Vérité sous la Terre”, Editions Parenthèses 2006)

From 1960 to 1996, the Maya Indian people of Guatemala paid a heavy price for the CIA-supported coup that installed a military dictatorship.

To combat guerrilla rebels, the military junta ruling the country enacted a scorched-earth policy, eliminating whole Indian communities. Looting, raping, torturing, and massacring old men, women, and children.

The civil war ended on December 29, 1996, with the signature of the Peace Accords between the rebels and the government.

Two truth commissions investigated the murders committed by the army. Drafted under the aegis of the United Nations, the Commission’s “Guatemala: Memory of Silence” concluded that the Guatemalan state had been “guilty of genocidal acts.”

200 000

50 000

massacres in rural Maya communities

Maya villages
wiped off the map

The truth commissions also engaged in a long-term endeavor to find the victims, locate mass graves and hidden cemeteries, and exhume the remains of the victims in order to identify them and especially to return them to their families.

“Will there someday be justice for us, the Indians, the poor,
for all of those who died?”

Julia de león Raymundo. Age 45.
Maya-Ixil, Río Azul (Nebaj, El Quiché)

“We want the world to know that we also need to exhume our history, our memory, our truth.”

Vicente Raymundo Matón. Age 38, Maya-Ixil.
Pulay (Nebaj, El Quiché)

“The soldiers hanged my wife from a tree. She still had our little baby Juan on her back, wrapped in a shawl. My father went to retrieve their bodies the day after the massacre, on August 26, 1982. Because we were still extremely frightened, we didn’t dare bury them that day. We waited until August 27 to do it. My baby had been wounded with a machete. I imagine the blood must have attracted dogs. The dogs must have carried the body away to eat it, because the next day, he was no longer next to his mother. I looked everywhere, but my child had disappeared.”

Diego Tol Calel. Age 43, Maya-K’iche’, Panimache (Chichicastenango, El Quiché)

“My little sister would have been 35 today. She would have been married, with children. But she joined the guerrillas in the 1980s. She was still a child back then. She told me she was going to fight because the situation had become so bad that we Indians could no longer survive. She said she was fed up with the poverty and discrimination. She said that if she had to die, at least she would die for a cause, not on her knees and in humiliation. Go figure how this consciousness was aroused in my sister. But she fell in combat on November 18, 1985. She was only 15 years old. When her comrades-in-arms told me of her death, my heart wept. Today is sad for me, but at the same time, it is a happy relief, because I am finally going to give her a dignified burial. She is the only family remaining to me, so even though she is dead, we will be together again.”

Nicolás Toma Velasco.Age 48, Maya-Ixil. Rosa Toma Velasco’s body was exhumed in July 2004. Batzumal II (Nebaj, El Quiché).

Before the forensic anthropologists removed the remains
from the pit, Miguel Tol Quino, a Maya-K’iche’, went to pray in the common grave where the bodies of his wife and four children — massacred by the army on August 25, 1982 —
were found.

FAFG Labs, Guatemala Ciudad:
Forensic anthropologist Alma Vásquez tests the remains of Diego Chicoj Tol, age 6, the victim of a massacre perpetrated by the army on August 25, 1982.

On December 16, 2003,
in the town meeting room of Nebaj (El Quiché), the remains of the victims slaughtered in the massacre of Vipulay, perpetrated by the army on February 25,1982, were restored to their families.
Catarina Terraza Chávez grieves for her mother, María Brito Chávez, 8 months pregnant, murdered at the age of 37.

“Today, I am at peace with myself. I now feel that I can die with no regrets. This is because tomorrow, I am finally going to bury my mom and my little boy Miguel. We have also invited the remains of two unidentified victims to share the grave. That is why we are also praying for them. Tomorrow, we will be burying them alongside my family. Otherwise, who will visit their graves?”

Diego Guzmán Santiago.
Age 44. Maya-Ixil.

“It is still difficult for me to explain to my children what happened, how much I suffered. How can I explain to them that men are capable of doing such things?”

Julia de León Raymundo.
Age 45, Maya-Ixil. With her 7-year-old son José Ceto de León.
Río Azul (Nebaj, El Quiché).

“No one talks. No one dares to. Because they’re still there, unpunished. The large and small. The patrollers, the policemen, (…), the jealous neighbors, the kaibiles (a special army corps implicated in the massacres), the informers, the insatiable landowners, and the low-ranking soldiers. But also, and especially, the ex-presidents of Guatemala, the heads of the armed forces, (…), the police chiefs, the generals and colonels who have become bankers, landlords, and businessmen.”

(In « La vérité sous la terre » Editions Parenthèses)

Maximo Cajal, ex-ambassador from Spain, ex-secretary general for Spanish Foreign Affairs, and ex-advisor to the president of the Spanish government for the Alliance of Civilizations .

On January 31, 1980, he was the only survivor of the attack on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City, burned down by Guatemalan security forces to dislodge the farm workers occupying it. In the attack, 36 Indians were killed (including the father of Rigoberta Menchu, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner), as well as two Spanish civil servants.

Sixteen years have elapsed since the end of the civil war. Despite the exhumations of genocide victims, wounds have yet to heal. Justice has not been served; discrimination, fear, and the law of silence persist.

Incapable of foreseeing a better future, Guatemalan society was rebuilt on foundations that can only generate violence.

The vast majority of the crimes committed during the conflict have yet to be solved, because the army refuses to divulge its archives despite its promise to do so in the Peace Accords.

Nevertheless, several retired generals are being prosecuted. In January 2012, the former chief of state General Rios Montt was formally indicted on charges of genocide.

Many human-rights organizations also accuse Guatemala’s new president, elected on November 6, 2011, Otto Pérez Molina, of crimes.
They hold him responsible for the massacres of Maya communities in the early 1980s, when he was the chief of the military detachment in Nebaj, in the department of Quiché. In the 1990s, as head of the intelligence services, he allegedly ordered extrajudicial executions.

Thousands of weapons, left over from the civil war, are still in circulation. Throughout the country, they are available at bargain prices.

Hundreds of thousands of people from rural areas fled to the cities to escape from the fighting. They swelled the ranks of the jobless slum-dwellers in urban areas. Coming from the countryside, they were unprepared for the rising level of urban violence confronting them and their children.

The mara phenomenon itself was produced by the civil war. After the Peace Accords, tens of thousands of Guatemalan refugees in the United States were sent home by the Clinton administration. They returned to their country with the gang culture they had learned in the ghettos of Los Angeles.
They transplanted it to Guatemala City’s slums, where it took root.

“It is impossible to build a stable foundation for the future if it rests on thousands or even millions of lives lost and dignities destroyed.”

Baltasar Garzon, Spanish judge

(In « La vérité sous la terre » Editions Parenthèses, 2006)

Judge Garzon was one of the first to engage legal proceedings against Latin American dictators, accusing them of genocide, terrorism, and torture. In 2012, he was finally acquitted after a four-year struggle to launch proceedings against the old Franco regime in his own country, Spain. He had been suspended on charges of “conflict of interest” for being so bold as to investigate the dictatorship’s crimes. Nevertheless, he was convicted of illegal wire-tapping in another case, and cannot practice in Spain for 11 years. The regime’s murderers have nothing to fear for several years…


Maya Indians make up 60% of Guatemala’s population. Yet they have suffered fromwidespread discrimination ever since Spain colonized the country four centuries ago.

They have little or no political representation, and their access to resources, education, and healthcare is limited. Their literacy rate is 53%, as compared to 82% for the rest of the population. 

Lacking schooling and often left to their own devices, Indian children in city slumsare confronted by gang violence at an early age. The number of school dropouts in this community is estimated at 2.5 million.

In 2005, it was believed that 42.9% of the population lived in slums.

Educational abandonment, with children who drop out of the system before the age of 14, is coupled with an abandonment in the field of healthcare which is just as severe, leading to inequalities.

On the one hand, public health programs lack funding. On the other, private healthcare is so expensive, it is accessible only to the rich.

The police are outnumbered ten to one by private security personnel. Underpaid and under-trained, the police themselves live in violent neighborhoods. They are involved in corruption reaching the highest levels of their hierarchy.

As a result, people seek justice for themselves, calling on hit men or arming themselves to protect their families.

Domestic violence

“Violence is driven by hatred, the hatred fathers and stepfathers instill in the hearts of their children, when they see their mothers being beaten, in a climate of machismo, alcoholism, and incest.These factors create enormous negative energy, early in life. The kids are hostile to everyone,and need to fight. A gang is like a wonderland: it gives them an opportunity to discharge all this accumulated hatred. You can do whatever you want; you can have what nobody ever gave you.”

Juan Carlos Molina, psychologist.

The NGO Doctors Without Borders, noting that family violence in Guatemala City was as widespread as in the war regions, opened a special clinic to treat the problem there.

Families are destroyed by joblessness and alcoholism. Husbands beat their wives with the children looking on – children who themselves are often also victims of sexual abuse and rape within the family.

Children born of rape suffer from a lack of love and attention even greater than that of the others. Sometimes, they look to gangs
to provide them with a new family.

“When my father came home, we were always scared that he would be drunk or high on drugs. And as always, we were all entitled to a beating. I was only four years old when he abandoned us. We never heard from him, after he left. I don’t miss him. I don’t love him, either, because of all the harm he did to us. I think Mom was severely affected by all the violence she was subjected to, and the economic situation we live in. Now I’m 13 years old, and I attended school for barely two years. I would like it so much if she took me in her arms, if she kissed me, instead of yelling at me and hitting me. Sometimes I ask her, “Mama, kiss me,” but she just tells me I’m a rotten kid. It’s true that lately, I’ve become a sort of rebel. That’s why she threw me out. She told me I was just like my father, and she didn’t want to see me anymore. And there are gangs in the street…”

Jacobo C., age 13.

Violence as a business

Fear is an effective weapon for forcing a child, a wife, or a society to submit. It also generates significant profits, essentially for those who maintain it.

Guatemala has become a paradise for people who sell bulletproof vests, alarm systems, and armed escort services.

With 36,000 legally registered agents, and 100 to 150,000 unofficial ones, private security allegedly generates $574 million in profits yearly.

Many of the heads of these “protection” businesses are former military officers who served during the Guatemalan Civil War.

“I retired early from the army, and now I am a successful businessman. I’d never imagined that a trade could be this lucrative. Our business is bolstered by people’s mistrust of the police, who are corrupt and lack credibility. We have many customers who believe they cannot function without paying for our services.”

Eric M. age 47. Head of a private security agency.

Evangelical Protestants are omnipresent. They have converted hundreds of ex-mareros, who go preach the good news in the most dangerous neighborhoods. As a result, the church receives substantial financial donations from the families, who don’t know who else to turn to for help.